Guest Editorial: More on Concordance (or Lack Thereof)
the Concord MagazineJune/July '99

More Concordance (or Lack Thereof)

By Ann Chapman, Concord Resident. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Concord Magazine.

I am thankful the Concord Magazine brought the important issue of conflict resolution to a public forum (article here). How much smoother things might go if our political leadership would do the same...

Mediation is fine if the real problem is some small concrete problem (e.g.,. the Visitors Center in Heywood Meadow). My sense is that it is merely a symptom of a large underlying problem. I feel the increasing tension between citizens and government (or citizens against citizens, or one branch of town government against another) has more to to with a community that is changing rapidly and leadership that isn't.

The problem won't really be solved until the political leadership becomes active in wanting to bring the community together rather than holding onto their power by "hiding behind barricades". One of the issues I feel should be looked at seriously is the selection process for town boards and committees (people currently submit "green cards" if they are interested in being on a board). This selection process allows a total of seven people in town government (the selectmen, town moderator, and town manager) to have final say on virtually all of the boards and committees.

This process is guaranteed to keep cliques of "like minded" people in power rather than producing creative leadership we need in a time of transition. Too often creative people, activists, and other vocal critics of the way town government is functioning are likely to be black listed (I know of several good people who have submitted green cards who have good ideas for change, and who, perhaps because of these ideas, have never been chosen).

I lived in the town of Harvard for a couple of years, and found a much happier relationship between citizens and government. The prime reason, I believe, is that they elect virtually all of their boards. There are some immediate advantages to this. 1) Anyone can run and have their ideas aired before the public. A good, new idea can get someone elected, even if it is critical of the status quo, and contrary to "the way things have always been done". 2) Once elected, the person has a mandate from the community to actually do something.

Our current boards chosen by green card submission, are often composed of people unknown to the public (or else known all to well--moving from board to board over decades), have no such mandate. There is no way for us to either support people on these boards who have ideas we like, or remove the "deadwood" periodically when they have lost touch with the community, or have just run out of steam. Is it any wonder that very little has been accomplished in the past decade, or that there is a mounting sense of frustration within the community? For democracy to work, we need avenues for reforming government when it loses touch with the people. We don't have that now.

Too much of what goes on in town government is institutionalized defeatism. I feel that activists have become almost the only group actually engaged in creative problem solving (e.g. environmental and historic preservation causes such as Walden and Estabrook Woods, the French House, and the Melvin Memorial, or efforts such as yours to create a public forum for a meaningful dialogue on the subject). We need creative problem solving from the political leadership as well, and if they aren't providing it, we need to be able to replace them.

When we have leadership with the courage to face problems and the creativity to solve them, and when that leadership works constructively with the community (the whole community, not just factions), I feel that the growing frustration that has led to such bitter disputes as the Visitors Center will melt away (actually, the best example of this was the Town Meeting vote in support of the Hubbardsville historic district on Sudbury Road). Virtually everyone of all political backgrounds supported the project, and there was tremendous good feeling in the air. A key to this rare success was how closely its supporters worked with people in the neighborhood and other community members. We need more of this kind of leadership from town government.

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